Who doesn’t love a good social drama every now and then? The Dardenne Brothers (Luc and Jean-Pierre) are seen as masters of Belgian cinema, and absolute geniuses at creating captivating drama about society. Their most recent film is Two Days, One Night, a harsh and unflinching look at the realities of a particular aspect of life. It is a heart-wrenching, bitterly sad and utterly real look at one woman’s struggle to keep her life together.
Marion Cotillard is one of the most talented actresses working today. Absolutely transcendent in everything she does, she gives arguably her best performance here, playing Sandra Bya, a young mother and wife who suffers a nervous breakdown and has to take time off work, and her employers realize that the work can be done without her, just the others need to work a little longer each week, and for their efforts in making Sandra redundant, they will be given a hefty bonus.
The only problem is that Sandra is a human being, and she has to convince everyone to vote for her to keep her job, and as a result not receive their bonus. This is the entire premise of the film, seeing Sandra visit each of her co-workers, one by one, to plead with them to help her keep her job. Something so minimalist and nihilistic can’t possibly be this captivating, but through Cotillard’s brilliant performance and the Dardennes assured directorial vision, it becomes a truly emotional film.
There isn’t much to say about Two Days, One Night. It is an exercise in control – it constantly avoids melodrama and film cliche in telling this story – there is no overt sense of cinematic excess here – Sandra doesn’t have huge confrontations or false moments of emotion. Instead, the brothers choose to keep it low-key and simple, and most of all strive to make it as realistic as possible. You become immersed in the life of Sandra. Instead of feeling like a simple film-goer, sitting and watching this story in front of you, one becomes a part of Sandra’s plight. You go where she goes, and you feel what she feels. Never before has the journey of a protagonist been so personal and emotional. The viewer becomes a part of Sandra’s world, and the emotional investment made to this film is something very rarely capable of happening in any film.
Some may consider this film too real, maybe even too harrowing to enjoy. It doesn’t allow for any escapism into the magical world of cinema, because it makes us all question our own jobs – how valuable are we to our employers, and how would our co-workers react when put in the situation of choosing between allowing someone to keep their job, or to get a huge sum of money. It is painfully disturbing in this regard, and forces deep thought and introspection into our own lives. The beauty of cinema is being able to see ourselves reflected right there on the screen, in the stories of cinema. However, a film that makes us consider our own lives in a way that makes us want to change it has to be seen as something incredible.
Two Days, One Night is a beautifully made film about life. It is so real and so gritty, and forces us out of our position as simple filmgoers and propel us into the world of Sandra and her plight. Never before have we wanted our protagonist to succeed so much, and it is a painfully real film that makes some truly profound comments on society and life as a whole. It is a masterpiece of filmmaking, and something so visceral and harsh, it becomes both difficult viewing, but essential cinema. A masterpiece.